Monday, December 28, 2015

The Great Courses

12/27/15. Michigan Psychological Association Newsletter. December 2015

My take on the Great Courses:

Once a month I eagerly wait for the catalogue of the great courses. When I open the thick, slick magazine advertising these amazing courses I am never disappointed. Immediately, I notice I can save 70% on 110 courses offered that range from “The Search for Exoplanets: What Astronomers Know” to “Critical Business Skills for Success.”

By taking advantage of these great offers, my half-hour commute to and from work turns into an educational adventure, listening to CDs of renowned and award-winning professors lecture about science, history, religion, philosophy, music, and math. The following is a sample of some of the great courses offered in the latest catalog: • Darwin and

Unnatural Selection: The Coming Extinction of Book Shelves

The Growing Threat of Capitalism When It Becomes Capitalized

Four Laws of Thurman’s Dynamics

Integrating Mind, Body, and Shoes

The Everyday Guide to Whining: A Tour Through the Valley of the Naps

Understanding the Relations and Implications between the Nose and Bisexuality

Understanding the Implications of the Higgs-Bosom Discovery for the Modern Marriage

The Art of Persuasion: Half-Truths and Whole-Lies

Understanding Why Small People Have Deep Roots: A Short Introduction to Genealogy

Sex, the Big Bang, and Arguing

A Biopsychosocial Approach to Understanding How and When to Tell a Highway it is Adopted.

On affirmative action

Sunday, December 27, 2015

George Will: Secular Creationists

12/27/15. On "The Evolution of Everything," "The Fatal Conceit," "The Wealth of Nations," and more. On why it is so hard to understand the emergence of order from spontaneity, free choice, and bottom-up organization.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Brain Pickings: The Best Books of 2015

A New Biography of Woody Allen

12/26/15. I'm sure it wasn't a moving violation.

Carly Simon: On Harems, James Taylor, and Her Memoir

Why Do Rituals Grow as a Year Dwindles?

12/26/15. Melvin Konner, Ph.D., M.D. - anthropologist and physician.

Trying to Hide the Rise of Violent Crime

Jerome Groopman: The Most Notable Medical Findings of 2015

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Socialism: Opium of the Intellectuals

12/17/15. Socialism = heaven on earth. Good Luck.
From the Nobel Prize lec-
ture by Svetlana Alexievich,
recipient of the 2015 award in
literature, in Stockholm Dec. 7:

[Soviet-era Russian author]
Varlam Shalamov once wrote:
"I was a participant in the
colossal battle, a battle that
was lost, for the genuine re-
newal of humanity." I recon-
struct the history of that bat-
tle, its victories and its
defeats. The history of how
people wanted to build the
Heavenly Kingdom on earth.
Paradise! The City of the Sun!
In the end, all that remained
was a sea of blood, millions
of ruined human lives. There
was a time, however, when no

political idea of the 20th cen-
tury was comparable to com-
munism (or the October
Revolution as its symbol), a
time when nothing attracted
Western intellectuals and
people all around the world
more powerfully or emotion-
ally. Raymond Aron called the
Russian Revolution the
"opium of intellectuals." But
the idea of communism is at
least two thousand years old.
We can find it in Plato's
teachings about an ideal, cor-
rect state; in Aristophanes'
dreams about a time when
"everything will belong to
everyone." . . . In Thomas
More and Tommaso Campan-
ella ... Later in Saint-Simon,

Fourier and Robert Owen.
There is something in the
Russian spirit that compels it
to try to turn these dreams
into reality.
Twenty years ago, we bid
farewell to the "Red Empire"
of the Soviets with curses
and tears. We can now look
at that past more calmly, as
an historical experiment.
This is
important, because
arguments about : socialism
have not died down. A new
generation has grown up
with a different picture of
the world, but many young
people are reading Marx and
Lenin again. In Russian
towns there are new muse-
ums dedicated to Stalin, and

new monuments have been
erected to him.
The "Red Empire" is gone,
but the "Red Man," homo
sovieticus, remains. He endures.
My father died recently.
He believed in communism to
the end. He kept his party
membership card. I can't
bring myself to use the word
"sovok," that derogatory epi-
thet for the Soviet mentality,
because then I would have to
apply it my father and others
close to me, my friends. They
all come from the same
place-socialism. There are
many idealists among them.
Romantics. Today they are
sometimes called slavery ro-
mantics. Slaves of utopia.



Sunday, November 29, 2015

Erudtions and Entertainment

11/29/15. Joseph Epstein's reviews a MASTERPIECE:

Edward Gibbon.  "The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire."

"His real subject is good sense and decency in a losing battle with pride, greed, and vice."

All you need to enjoy this masterpiece that has held up for more than 200 years, Mr. Epstein, says, "is time, patience and an attentive mind"   --- rare qualities, indeed.

Closed Minds on Campus

The Most Beautiful Theory

Climate Change Will Not Be Dangerous for a Long Time

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Will You Ever Be Able to Upload Your Brain?

10/11/15. Life and death.

"...I certainly have my own fears of annihilation. But I also know that I had no existence for the 13.8 billion years that the universe existed before my birth, and I expect the same will be true after my death. The universe is not about me or any other individual; we came and we go as part of a much larger process. More and more I am content with this awareness. We all find our own solutions to the problem death poses. For the foreseeable future, bringing your mind back to life will not be one of them."

Some Guidelines to the Evaluation and Diagnosis of Children and Adolescents with Psychological Disorders

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Joseph Epstein has written for COMMENTARY for fifty years

Alan Dershowitz's History of Jewish Lawyers

9/20/15. He lived two doors down from Jackie Mason, near Buddy Hackett, and in Woody Allen's neighborhood. 

Jewish humor is essential for coping with anxiety, absurdity, suffering, horror, and much more.

Four Europeans go hiking together and get terribly lost.

First they run out of food, then out of water.

"I'm so thirsty, " says the Englishman. "I must have tea."

"I'm so thirsty," says the Frenchman, I must have wine."

"I'm so thirsty," says the German. "I must have beer."

"I'm so thirsty," says the Jew. "I must have diabetes."

No less than Freud expressed his wonder at Jewish joking:

"I do not know whether there are many other instances of a people making fun to such a degree of its own character."

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Improvisation and Psychology

9/12/15. There is a link between someone skilled at improvisation and psychotherapy.

All Scientists Should be Militant Atheists


My friend Tom replies, a chemist and a Christian:

This article is a pitiful display of ignorance.  It is most often the physicists who are the vocal atheistic minority among the scientific community, for physics is perhaps the branch of the physical sciences with the most amount of assumptions behind it and the one with the least opportunity for hard experimentation, because of its great expense.  It is also these few scientists who are the most difficult to give up on an idea, they have built their careers upon; even though, they are often dead wrong.  Of course, there is no way to do the experiment because of the high cost or impossible circumstance.   The high-energy physics experiment of late is the best example in the search for the “God” particle.  I do not remember the details, but the outcome was very clear.  There were two opposing camps of high-energy physicists with each theory predicting the energy of the “God” particle.  After much hailed experimentation, cost, and public attention, the energy of the particle was determined, and low-and-behold, its energy did not support either of two major theories (or any other theory for that matter).  It was an energy altogether different than predicted.  I remember a Nobel prize-winning scientist speaking to commentators saying his entire life’s work was for nothing, and that he did not know what to do but retire and go fishing.  No physicists had any idea why they were all wrong.    The point is that atheism is a religion in-and-of-itself, and those who believe in it try to hide behind a science that cannot be tested easily with tenacious ignorance, and not accept any other idea but their own.


There are false assumptions throughout the article; the most obvious is that we live in a secular society.  Well, if that is true, then why do 90% of people in surveys in the U.S. say the believe in a God?  The fact is one does not live in a secular society; unless the culture has been made that way by atheistic socialist doctrine.  Religion is historically an integral part of all cultures.   Only by socialist governments in modern times has religion been removed, degraded, or presumed to not exist.  


Another false assumption is that the universe is in chaos.  All evidence today is that the universe is remarkably “fine tuned” in a manner that could not have possible by random occurrences.   This is indisputable!  The author, in his ignorance, holds onto the random-chaos theory, which has been demonstrated otherwise.  Why does he do this?  Because he has no other answer, and it trashes all his theories.  Every atheist has a God; it is himself.  He will defend that God at all costs.


The only problem that is “self-evident”, is that the framers of the Constitution failed to define religion.  Since the only thing that existed in their domain at the time was Judeo-Christian, they thought it was “self-evident” that any religion to be concerned about in their domain was simply a difference of interpretation within the framework of the Judeo-Christian ethic.  They had no idea of how the world was going to change in the two hundred years.  The concept of an acceptable “religion” needs to be defined.  It goes without saying, that any theocratic governance that might  “…deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws” (Amendment XIV, Section 1.) is not a “religion” under the Constitution; so it is absurd to suggest that such would be protected by the Constitution as a “religion”.     


The other problem is that Amendment XIV precedes the statement above with “…nor shall any State…”, meaning that States have the right under the Constitution to enact laws that are not covered by Congress enacting others, and that the Supreme Court does not have any right under the Constitution to create new law by review or judgment.  It is only by repeating this false assumption over and over again and manipulating the court system to act as if the Supreme Court had the authority to make law by redefining the scope of a statement in the Constitution that liberals say the Supreme Court has this power, when in fact it does not.     


I normally express my opinion in letters to my congressman in the form of hypothetical Constitutional Amendments, and limiting the power to the Supreme Court was one of them.

Joseph Epstein: A Biography As Great as Its Subject

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

What the Left and Right Don't Get about Campus Rape

9/1/15. Mona Charen's trenchant comments.

Reminds me about what the left and right don't get about mental illness. The left's passion is to protect the civil rights of the mentally disturbed --- so they can die with their rights intact. The right's passion is to get the mentally disturbed and their families to take responsibility for their actions, question whether mental disturbance is a myth, and put the psychiatrically disturbed in prison, not hospitals. Both the left and right have contributed to the closing of psychiatric hospitals leading to the tragedy of homelessness.

Wayne W. Dyer RIP

Monday, August 31, 2015

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Robert Conquest RIP 1917 - 2015.

8/5/15. A rare human with courage, clarity of mind, and an understanding of the pervasiveness of self-deception.

Robert Conquest always knew there are many intelligent people who are akin to a high-powered rifle with a bad aim.

I'm Going to Live Forever. So Far, So Good. The Immortality Instinct.

8/5/15. Beliefs about immortality go back at least 4,000 years.

The Biology of Desire

8/5/15. Sally Satel reviews Marc Lewis' new book, "The Biology of Desire."
Kicking the Habit

If addiction is a brain disease, addicts are mad, sick and defective. If it’s a failure of will, users are bad, immoral and weak.


Sally Satel

July 21, 2015 7:42 p.m. ET

The medical and treatment establishments tell us that drug addiction is a brain disease, not an absence of willpower. Technicolor brain scans are presented as proof, and millions of dollars are invested in the search for pharmaceutical remedies.

What is unfortunate about this definition is not that it plays down the willpower dimension of addiction—the “just say no” injunction was too superficial to be of much help anyway. The danger instead lies in the black-or-whiteness of both propositions: If addiction is a brain disease, addicts are mad, sick and defective; if addiction is a failure of will, users are bad, immoral and weak.

In “The Biology of Desire,” Marc Lewis, a neuroscientist, takes a less Manichaean approach, arguing that addiction entails both biological alterations in the user’s brain and changes in his personal agency. He offers an insightful take on the interaction of mind and brain against the backdrop of the addict’s life circumstances.

Mr. Lewis is no white-coated lab shut-in. In his 20s, he consumed vast amounts of alcohol, opiates, psychedelics and stimulants, an odyssey that he chronicled in “Memoirs of an Addicted Brain” (2012). In that book and in this one, he writes about bursting neurotransmitters and sinewy neural circuitry with remarkable passion and sensuousness.

Photo: wsj

The Biology of Desire

By Marc Lewis

PublicAffairs, 238 pages, $26.99

When it comes to nomenclature, Mr. Lewis prefers “habit” to “addiction”—not to minimize the devastation of what users can incur but to point up the fact that the biology of habit formation is relevant to the compulsive use of substances. “The neural circuitry of desire governs anticipation, focused attention, and behavior . . . ,” he writes. “This process is grounded in a neurobiological feedback loop that’s present in all normal brains.”

In other words, people who discover a substance—or an activity, such as gambling—that helps them assuage pain or elevate their mood will form a strong attachment to it. Repeated behavior becomes harder to stop over time, though even a strong attachment need not create an unchangeable pattern. Addiction is “an inevitable feature of the basic human design,” Mr. Lewis writes. That design revolves around “neuroplasticity,” the ability of the brain to reorganize itself by forming new neural pathways and connections in response to modes of thinking and acting as well as inputs from the environment.


As people repeatedly look forward to and then experience certain drugs—or other strongly desired forms of pleasure or relief—the brain adjusts its mechanisms, intensifying the release of neurotransmitters in the regions involved in processing emotion and motivation. “Each network of synapses,” Mr. Lewis writes, “is strengthened and refined, so that the uptake of dopamine gets more selective as rewards are identified and habits established.” The drug habit is learned more deeply than others, Mr. Lewis explains, “due to a narrowing tunnel of attention and attraction.” Competing desires and imperatives get shunted aside or obliterated.

“The Biology of Desire” is not entirely a survey of brain science. Its middle part is devoted to portraiture, presenting real people who were once in the grip of an addictive habit, tracing the reasons for it and, finally, showing how each managed to stop. There is Natalie, for example, a college student who is drawn to OxyContin and then heroin because, she says, it “relaxed you by abolishing the sensation of threat.” Natalie gets arrested and finally realizes the state she is in. Through meditation she learns to tame her impulses and endure a craving without giving into it. She also reunites with her mother. The sounds, sights and experiences that, in her brain, she so tightly links with heroin lose their associative pull.

The same basic arc applies to other figures in Mr. Lewis’s portrait gallery: Brian the methamphetamine user, Donna the opiate addict and Johnny the alcoholic. All these young adults are in some way broken; all find solace in substances, both licit and illicit. They don’t want to be addicted, and their self-loathing only intensifies once they believe they are. But they desperately want immediate relief and so surrender.

All of Mr. Lewis’s case studies end well or at least optimistically. At the heart of the recoveries are new, more constructive habits, identities and relationships—and, in the brains of the subjects, the sculpting of new synaptic patterns. As Mr. Lewis shows, the physiology behind the addiction process can be intentionally engaged by addicts to put them on the path to recovery. By exploiting the neuroplastic capacities of the brain, individuals can develop strategies for self-control.

It may well be, as Mr. Lewis says, that addiction is a form of normal habit formation. But isn’t it more like a normal process gone awry? When outcomes are so dire, how is this not a pathological state? Mr. Lewis is deeply humane in his regard for people trapped in compulsive habits, so much so that he seems reluctant to impose any rules on their behavior and ends up treating them more like patients than he might like to admit. He is big on the so-called Vancouver model in which addicts are guided to safer drug-using methods and gently encouraged to get themselves together. But he de-emphasizes the importance of behavioral shaping through external incentives and sanctions, which are at the core of drug treatments that divert addicts from the criminal-justice system.

“The Biology of Desire” says a lot about the brain mechanisms underpinning addiction but, to its credit, does not stop there. With minor exceptions, we do not help addicts (and they do not help themselves) by ministering directly to their brains. As Mr. Lewis stresses throughout this unorthodox but enlightening book, people learn to be addicts, and, with effort, they can learn not to be addicts, too.

Dr. Satel is a psychiatrist and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. She is co-author, with Scott Lilienfeld, of “Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience.”